Update on COVID-19 Routine Testing Program

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Update on COVID-19 Routine Testing Program


Russell Carey




September 3, 2020

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Following the conclusion of the summer pilot phase for our routine COVID-19 testing program, the University launched an even more comprehensive fall testing program on Monday, Aug. 24. I write today with an initial update to the community on our results to date, as students and employees approved to be on campus continue to visit our two testing locations with the start of the fall term approaching.

Since Aug. 24, we have enrolled in the testing program 6,375 members of the Brown community who are studying, working or living on campus as part of our phased return to in-person operations. By the end of the day on Tuesday, Sept. 1, we had completed approximately 6,000 tests at the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center (OMAC) and One Davol Square testing sites. As of that same timeframe, results for more than 5,400 of those tests had been returned, with the others still to be processed.

Out of those approximately 5,400 tests, we have had a total of five positive results. Among those five, some of these positive results represent not newly detected cases, but prior infections of COVID-19 diagnosed at earlier points within the past 90 days — during that timeframe after diagnosis, a person can shed virus particles that are detected by a previous test, even though the individual is no longer contagious. (And consistent with CDC guidance, individuals who test positive should generally not be tested for the next 90 days.)

While the low rate of positive asymptomatic tests is reassuring, it is by no means an indication that our individual or community vigilance with regard to health and safety measures should relax. It is an indication that the efforts we are all making every day -- wearing masks, washing our hands, maintaining social distancing, staying home when sick or exposed, participating in the testing program -- are working and that we need to continue those efforts to best protect ourselves, the Brown community, and our broader Providence and Rhode Island communities as well.

In general, the feedback we have received regarding the testing sites and process itself has been positive, and we have continued to make improvements based on participant feedback and suggestions. We have also been monitoring the timeliness of results closely. The Broad Institute picks up test samples from both of our testing sites twice a day, and those samples arrive in their Cambridge, Massachusetts, lab facility in the late afternoon or evening on the same day each test is conducted. For the most part, the Broad Institute has delivered results within 24 hours of the sample arriving at the lab -- so typically with 24 to 36 hours following the test. That is consistent with what we anticipated but remains a metric of success that we will assess on a daily basis.

As some participants are aware, we have some challenges with the online scheduling process. A significant system update to the Healthy at Work / School web application was implemented this week, and we believe that challenges to the scheduling process have been resolved. Some of these were related to the change in testing cadence from the summer pilot, when we were sampling the population and selecting participants at random for tests -- as opposed to the fall program, through which all participants are tested either once or twice a week.

Concurrent with the launch of the testing program, we are also in the latter stages of finalizing a public dashboard that will share data on testing results and the prevalence of the virus on campus. We look forward to sharing that dashboard with the full community shortly.

In the interim, you can find additional details and a growing set of FAQs on the Testing & Tracing section of the Healthy Brown website at https://healthy.brown.edu/testing-tracing.

I want to thank all students, faculty and staff who have participated in routine testing to date for their diligence in completing the symptom tracker, scheduling and taking tests, and for their patience as we work through the successful launch of a program with significant scale and complexity. Similarly, I deeply appreciate the efforts of the many colleagues at Brown who are working hard every day to support the program for all participants.


Russell C. Carey
Executive Vice President, Planning and Policy


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